Step 1 of Realignment: 2 Divisions in each league (East and west)
As it currently stands, major league baseball is constructed in a way that separates its 30 teams by 2 leagues (14 in the AL and 16 in the NL). The MLB further segments its teams into 3 divisions (East, Central, and West) for each respective league, totaling 6 divisions.
The Winner of each division is consequentially awarded a playoff berth. The top second place team in each league is awarded the final playoff spot for each league. Sounds logical, right?
Well, to be honest it’s not logical from a competitive standpoint at all. Take for instance the following list of teams…
The following list is comprised of teams that made the playoffs, however, did not have sole possession of a top four record in their respective league. Teams with asterisks (*) below are the teams with better records within that league who did not make the playoffs.
AL: Minnesota (11th overall, 5th in AL 87 wins)
AL: Chicago White Sox (9th overall, 5th in AL 89 wins)
NL: Los Angeles Dodgers (15th overall, 8th in NL 84 wins)
*Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, NY Mets, Florida Marlins
NL: Chicago Cubs (12th overall 6th in NL, 85 wins)
*San Diego Padres, NY Mets
NL: St. Louis Cardinals (13th overall, 5th in NL 83 wins and world series champs) *Philadelphia Phillies
NL: San Diego Padres (14th overall, 7th in NL, 82 wins)
Philadelphia Phillies, Floirda Marlins, NY Mets,
AL: Minnesota Twins (8th overall, 5th in AL, 90 wins)
NL: Atlanta Braves (tied 9th overall, tied 5th in NL, 88 wins)
*San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs
AL: New York Yankees (10th overall, 5th in AL, 87 wins and World Series Champions)
AL: Texas Rangers (Tied for 8th overall with 2 teams, tied for 4th in AL, 88 wins)
*Toronto Blue Jays (tied)
NL: Houston Astros (tied for 10th overall, 6th in NL, 84 wins)
*NY Mets, LA Dodgers
NL: St Louis Cardinals (tied for 7th overall with 2 teams, tied for 4th in NL, 88 wins)
*Montreal Expos (tied with 88 wins)
So now that you’ve digested that exhaustive list of moderately decent, but not great, teams you should’ve noticed one key trait that all these teams had in common.
They didn’t deserve to make the playoffs.
Now hold on a minute, I know what you’re saying. The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals and 2000 New York Yankees both won the World Series, and that its good for the game to have teams that are underdogs in the playoffs.
Well, that’s all well and good, but this is Major League Baseball, A league that prides itself on supposedly placing the highest emphasis on its regular season in comparison to any other professional sport. It features 162 games (double the amount of the NBA and NHL and about 8 times the amount of the NFL), 4 playoff teams from each league (half as many as NHL and NBA and 2 less than the NFL), yet those 4 teams are not always necessarily the best due to the broken system in place.
It’s not right when a team that fights tooth and nail from April to October, wins upwards of 90 games and has its playoff spot stolen from them by an inferior, less deserving team. When I think about tuning into the “fall classic” I want to know that I am seeing the best possible matchup of teams. That simply doesn’t happen as frequently as it should.
Since MLB limits its playoff teams to 4 (which I do agree with) and given that there are 162 games, it is clear that the MLB wants to place high emphasis on its regular season. But with its current structure of 3 division winners and 1 wild card from each league, the MLB has created a backward system that features quirkiness in each year’s pennant race.
Perhaps this is exactly what baseball wants. It most likely keeps the most teams in play, which I assume helps ratings and attendance for regular season games. But this is professional sports. As a fan, I am always distraught when pro sport leagues compromise competitiveness and fairness for ratings. There are other ways to improve ratings, and penalizing good teams in favor for lesser teams makes little sense to me.
So, what is my solution?
You eliminate the central division in both leagues, and dissolve the teams in those divisions to the east and west and have 7 AL East and West teams and 8 NL East and West teams. Below is how I believe the teams should be dissolved (based upon location, pre-1994 division set up, and team rivalries).
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
New York Mets
St Louis Cardinals
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants
This idea is not so radical if you are familiar with baseball history. In fact, adding the central division to both leagues occurred as late as 1994, and guess what happened that year?
That’s right, a strike to end the season. I’m not saying the central division invoked the strike, but I also don’t see how it has helped progress the competitiveness of the game.
Before 1994, each league featured two divisions an east and a west. Each division winner would make the playoffs. Therefore each league would only feature 2 playoff teams with no wild card. Baseball made a good change by adding two more teams in the mix, but I disagree with the way they did it, by adding a new division.
Below is my proposition as for how playoff teams will be determined in this new, yet throwback structure.
Step 2 of Realignment: Two Division Winners and Two Wild Card teams for Each League:
By restructuring the league to its way of old, featuring an AL and NL East and West with no central division and by keeping the wild card intact, the MLB will have successfully infused the new with the old. Not only will it be a great way to connect the pastime with the present day era of baseball, but also have created a successful system in which the best four teams in each league will make the playoffs annually.
Each division winner will earn a playoff spot, and a top 2 seed in the playoffs, good for home-field advantage in the first round, regardless of record. In doing so, we won’t diminish the reward of winning a division, which, under this new structure, will be an even more challenging and rewarding accomplishment.
However, unlike the current structure featuring three divisions, a division winner will almost certainly have a respectable win total that hovers around 100 wins, given that 7 or 8 teams will be competing for that one spot as opposed to 4, 5, or 6 as the divisions currently stand.
The other two spots will be wild card teams. The two wild card spots will simply go to the two teams with the best overall record regardless of what division they are in. So for instance if the Braves and Padres were to win the NL East and West divisions in a given year and the top two records belonged to the Mets and Phillies, then the Mets and Phillies would achieve the wild card spots and the NL East would feature 3 playoff teams, while the NL West would only feature one.
To me, this is a dream scenario as a Mets fan. There would be a chance to play the Braves and then Phillies possibly in the playoffs in back to back series’. The playoffs would not only feature the teams with the best record in this system, but also facilitate more intense playoff series between rivals.
In addition, it would be very unlikely for four teams in the East to finish with a better record than the top team in the west, which essentially would guarantee that the top 4 records in each league would achieve the playoff berth they deserve.
Baseball’s current structure has allowed middle of the pack teams with as low as 83 wins in a season to sneak into the playoffs due to being placed in an awful division with no competition. This is a clear problem and one that I deem to be quite fixable.
With my proposed structure, baseball will have fixed this problem and in addition addressed all, if not most of its fears with ratings. Even if less teams are in the race, which I don’t believe will be the case, the quality of the race will not be compromised.
In addition, teams wouldn’t play their division rivals as much. Currently, each team in the MLB will play its division rivals 19 times each. This is probably why the Yankees, Red Sox rivalry has washed out lately. The fact is, these games aren’t as exciting anymore, they simply happen to often. In the new structure you’d only play your division foe around 12 times a year, but have a better chance of playing them in more exciting and meaningful playoffs games, should the teams earn it.
By increasing the odds of rival matchups in the playoffs, the MLB will have done its best to revitalize rivalries such as Yankees and Red Sox, while also matching them up less in the regular season, which will place more emphasis on each individual game.
In closing, there are many pressing needs when it comes to adjusting the current game of baseball. I understand that MLB has had other concerns, such as cleaning up the game and the steroid era, but it seems that issue has been put to rest for the most part these days. It’s time to shift the focus to realignment.